DOE Fines Contractor for Nuclear Safety Violations

The Department of Energy fined Westinghouse Savannah River Co. $220,000 for violations of nuclear safety rules at the department's site in Aiken, S.C.

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The Department of Energy (DOE) completed its regulatory review and fined Westinghouse Savannah River Co. $220,000 for violations of nuclear safety rules at the department''s site in Aiken, S.C.

The penalty stems from a September 1999 event in which eight workers were accidentally exposed to plutonium, one in excess of the regulatory limit.

"This unfortunate exposure was clearly preventable," said Dr. David Michaels, DOE assistant secretary for environment, safety and health. "Westinghouse management knew of the problems with radiological work controls and event response from a similar worker exposure at the site in 1996. Several subsequent assessments and this incident clearly demonstrate that those problems have not been effectively addressed."

The workers were exposed to plutonium at the plant''s FB-Line Facility while preparing plutonium storage containers for transfer to another on-site location.

A defective weld in one of the containers allowed plutonium to be released, activating the alarm on an adjacent air monitor.

Although the exposure did not cause any immediate health consequences to the workers and no long range consequences are anticipated, one worker''s exposure was over the federal limit.

All involved workers were placed on various temporary work restrictions to limit additional exposures.

DOE investigators said several factors contributed to the accident, including:

  • Effective processes were not in place to ensure the integrity of the welds on storage cans.
  • Work and event response activities did not follow approved procedures, including inadequate radiological monitoring for the work being done.
  • Radiological surveys were not immediately performed on the highly-contaminated operator who exited the vault after the alarm sounded.
  • Management did not ensure that effective design features such as adequate ventilation were in place to ensure possible exposures were as low as reasonably achievable.

DOE is proposing partial mitigation of the $275,000 base civil penalty for the violations, based on the contractor''s thorough investigation of the event and the broad scope of corrective actions that Westinghouse has committed to take.

A copy of the violation is available on the DOE Web site at www.eh.doe.gov/enforce.

by Virginia Sutcliffe

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